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The Long Road Ahead

first_img Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox. Email There are two extreme camps at each end of the debate over how the economy will fare in the coming years: one that predicts unemployment rolls rising to 20 percent or higher and another that sees the economy sharply turning a corner over the next several months. The reality, most likely, lies somewhere in between, meaning the climb back to pre-recession jobless levels is still daunting.A chart compiled this month by the Brookings Institute – and dubbed by Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein “the scariest jobs graph you’ve seen yet” – shows how hopes of a speedy recovery remain elusive.The study measures the nation’s jobs gap, which it pegs at 11.3 million, and predicts how long it will take to erase that margin based on average and optimistic job-growth predictions. In either case, a full recovery would take five to 10 years, if 200,000 to 320,000 jobs were created each month.The Great Recession, of course, has affected every state differently and Montana – at least outside the northwest portion of the state – is often thought to have weathered it better than most. But as the Brookings Institute points out, this state lost a large percentage of jobs when taking into consideration its population and miniscule pre-recession unemployment levels. In fact, Montana saw the 19th-biggest decline in “employment to population ratio” (tied with the District of Columbia) among states over the last three years. In that time, Brookings estimates that the ratio has dropped 4.5 percent, which puts the jobs gap here at 34,815. That last number pales in comparison to California’s 1,514,625, but is sizable since Montana has only about 1 million residents and has actually seen its unemployment rate tick up the last few months to 7.2 percent. Meanwhile, Flathead County’s employment rate stands at 11.5 percent, a number that has actually dropped each month since April.Nationwide, while Nevada and Michigan have the highest jobless rates in the country, Brookings says Alabama, Delaware, Georgia and (to my surprise) Colorado have suffered the biggest declines in their labor markets since the recession began. The survey debunks conventional talking points, which simply equate the hardest hit states with the highest unemployment numbers.The recession has punished, from the Rockies to the Florida Panhandle, every corner of the country to some degree. Here, like elsewhere, the question being posed to local officials is what can be done to close these job gaps. At a Whitefish Chamber of Commerce meeting last week, there was guarded optimism among some in the service industry as summer hotel bookings are up. The focus has now turned to attracting visitors to that city during the shoulder seasons.In Kalispell, Montana West Economic Development recently announced that local firm WaveSource, Inc., secured $600,000 in private equity funding to continue to “move forward with their innovative eye exam technology and the production of custom multifocal contact lenses.”Both are good signs. And many local businesspeople who survived the economic downturn have said that this year’s numbers are better than last. But the problem is 2009 was the worst many had experienced – ever.For this state, and especially the Flathead, replacing lost jobs will continue to require creativity and persistence from those in the business development fields. It will also require patience from everyone as the road to full recovery appears to be growing in length.Montana may have escaped the worst of the recession, but it is certainly not, as often stated by our public officials,“better than most states.” last_img read more